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Heather Ellis, Knowledge Making and Research Integrity in Britain’s Literary and Philosophical Societies, 1780-1840
10 May, 2018 @ 1:05 pm - 1:50 pm
Historians who have worked on the literary and philosophical societies which flourished in different parts of the British Isles between the 1780s and 1840s have tended to treat them primarily as institutions devoted to the popular diffusion of knowledge. While many of these societies were, without doubt, deeply interested in educational matters, an examination of their own publications and the correspondence of their members and visitors, shows that they viewed themselves, in the first instance, as institutions dedicated to the production of new knowledge, both scientific and literary, through the carrying out of primary research. As such, one of the greatest challenges facing Britain’s literary and philosophical societies was the need to establish the reliability, integrity and validity of the research presented at their weekly or monthly meetings.
This paper will focus on the work of the so-called Committees of Papers established at several prominent literary and philosophical societies including those based in Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Liverpool and Sheffield. These committees were tasked not only with selecting the papers which would be read and discussed at the societies’ meetings, but also those which would be published as part of their transactions. With this in mind, the paper will aim to reconstruct, as far as possible, the procedures, practices and techniques adopted by the various Committees of Papers, working across both scientific and literary research, to scrutinise, examine, and, if necessary, replicate, the work of those who sought the societies’ sanction for their research.